April 25, 2008

Women at the Box Office This Weekend: Baby Mama and Then She Found Me

This is a rare, good weekend for women at the box office. While I have not yet seen Baby Mama, I encourage everyone to go and see it. Here's why.

First, because Tina Fey and Amy Poehler rule! The first episode when Saturday Night Live returned after the writer's strike that Fey hosted was clearly the best in a long, long time. Secondly and more importantly, they are bucking the trend of the guy-centric comedies. I am so tired of Hollywood comedies being by and about the guys. While Baby Mama is written and directed by a guy (I'm waiting for Tina Fey to start directing her work too, but she is busy with 30 Rock so I'll give her a break) it's the first time in a long time that a female comedy duo has toplined a movie. When was the last one? Do we have to go all the way back to The First Wives Club? I'm no film historian but I can't remember a single female buddy comedy since then unless I want to count The Devil Wears Prada (which I don't.)

There is a lot of pressure of Fey and Poehler this weekend, and in turn the pressure is on all of us to support this movie. I can't understate the importance of this film doing well. If it does well maybe then, Hollywood will see that women can open a comedy and we might be given a reprieve from spending the rest of our lives seeing Judd Apatow comedies. (By the way, not all his films do well, but his juggernaut has not been threatened in any way.)

Here are some points from last weekend's LA Times piece on Baby Mama:

The unwritten rule of Hollywood comedies is like that classic admonition given boxers the night before a fight: Women weaken legs. Here the legs are a movie's potential at the box office. Which is why it seems unusual -- if not illegal -- for two females, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, to have the leads in a buddy comedy, "Baby Mama," opening Friday.

"Baby Mama" begs to differ. It's almost like an experiment in comedy science class: What if these roles went to funny women who've earned their shot at big-screen success?

Hollywood comedies are normally marketed to 14-year-old boys, but your movie is more adult and well-mannered than that. It's also about a sensitive issue -- women becoming single moms by choice. Do you think it's a harder sell for Universal because there's no movie star or large-breasted woman on the poster?

Poehler (laughs): Everything is a harder sell until it's a success and then it's not.

Fey: There was no movie star on the "Superbad" poster until they were movie stars.

Poehler: I think we both tend to be kind of late bloomers. We've always been attracted, both of us, to late bloomers in general anyway. There's a lot of women in comedy right now that are actually our age. It's the same kind of thing, really strong women, let's say who were mentioned in that Vanity Fair article. All similar age. I don't know what that means. Fey and Poehler gamble with 'Baby Mama'
On the other hand, for those in NY and LA, this weekend opens the Helen Hunt directed film Then She Found Me. The film will be rolling out across the country over the next several weeks. I LOVED THIS MOVIE. I can't say this more emphatically - it is a beautiful, touching film. Here's my review: Then She Found Me

So here's my suggestion (not that you asked): Women in NY and LA go and see Then She Found Me. This film needs our support desperately. We need to show that there is a market for these types of films so that it won't take Helen Hunt 10 years to make her sophomore effort.

Women in the rest of the country: Your assignment is to see Baby Mama. (I will let you know when Then She Found Me opens in your area.)

We need to support films by and about women cause if we don't, no one will.

Review: Then She Found Me

It took Helen Hunt 10 years to make her directorial debut with Then She Found Me, but boy was it worth the wait. A beautiful and moving film, it tells the story of April Epner a 39-year-old schoolteacher who longs to have have her own child, but time is running out. She’s also a bit of a wreck. Her recent marriage to the immature Ben (Matthew Broderick) has fallen apart, her adopted mother dies, and then she is approached by her birth mother, local TV talk show host Bernice Graves, played by an over-the-top yet warmhearted Bette Midler. Bernice tells a variety of stories (you never know which one to believe) of how she gave up April all those years ago. A natural-born performer, she tries to win April over but fails miserably. In the midst of all this craziness, April meet Frank (Colin Firth), the father of one of her students, and then on top of it all, finds out she is pregnant by Ben.

All the above insanity might seem chaotic, but in Hunt's extremely capable hands, we are able to see flawed characters making everyday decisions and the implications each choice has on everyone else. This is an all-around effort for Hunt who, along with directing and starring, co-wrote the screenplay and helped produce the film. The fact that it exists at all is a testament to Hunt's perseverance. Hunt has said of her characters: “They’re all a little bit awful, they’re all a little bit wonderful, and that makes perfect sense to me.” And it makes perfect sense to the story; all these characters felt real.

Hunt makes a bold statement by making April a normal looking (almost) 40-year-old woman. She's a teacher, she's tired, and, above all, she's been beaten down by life. Hunt lets us see that on her face, allowing herself to be exposed on screen in a very gutsy way. It's been a long time since I saw a close-up of an actress where she wasn't botoxed to death and I could actually discern the reactions on her face.

Along with Midler, the supporting class is stellar. My crush on Colin Firth, as the solid but bruised good guy, stands as strong as ever. Matthew Broderick has gotten older (haven't we all), but he still retains this childlike quality and is perfectly cast as the pathetic Ben, who runs back to his mommy after he escapes April.

Ten years is a long time to try and get a movie made, but sadly for women directors, it's more typical that you would expect. In fact, two other recent releases by female directors, Tamara Jenkins (The Savages) and Kimberly Peirce (Stop-Loss) both endured 10 long years to get their sophomore efforts into the theaters. Here's to hoping that it doesn't take Hunt another decade for her sophomore effort. It would be such a shame after this auspicious debut.

April 24, 2008

Falling for Grace: A Lesson in Perseverance

Since I started writing this site several months ago I have been contacted by a variety of women filmmakers who are in different stages of their films. While each woman's story is different, one thing they have in common is the difficulties each faces, how isolated they feel, and how hard it is to get a movie directed by a woman and/or about a woman to see the light of day.

No one said making movies was an easy business, but it seems that its gotten even harder, especially for women, and it's even more important that women directors and writers get support because we are in danger of being stuck in a world of film that is seen only from the male directors and male writers perspectives and we can't allow this to happen.

So, I decided that this site will be a place for women creatives to have their voices heard.

One of these women is Fay Ann Lee, the co-writer, producer, director and star of Falling for Grace an adorable romantic comedy that debuted several years ago at the Tribeca Film Festival to sold out audiences. Fay was hoping that Tribeca would set her up with a distributor but no distributor came calling. The variations of no she heard included, the lack of stars (even though B.D. Wong and Margaret Cho are in it), and the fact because the film stars an Asian woman that mainstream audiences won't accept it. Can Hollywood really believe that people are that narrowminded? People are longing to see good films, its just that the only things available in their communities are the same old, same old, big Hollywood pieces of crap. And, Hollywood has no desire to even try and figure out how to market movies to women.

Lee refused to give up and has been self-distributing the film herself. This past weekend the film played in Phoenix at the main art house and outgrossed another film that was playing on two screens to her one! They are running for another week in Phoenix (so if you know anyone there send them to the Camelview.)

If anyone is interested in helping Fay get a distribution deal, I will get you in touch with Fay.

You can check out the trailer here: Falling for Grace
Website: http://www.fallingforgrace.com/

Women Directors Missing from Cannes

The lineup for the 61st Cannes Film Festival was announced yesterday and it's the same old story, women directors are noticeably missing from the films in competition. From what I can tell, only 1.5 films out of 19 are directed by women. They include: La Mujer Sin Cabeza directed by Argentine Lucrecia Martel and Linha de Passe which is co-directed by Daniela Thomas and Walter Salles.

Un Certain Regard is a bit better with 2.5 out of 19. Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir's film debut Milh Hadha Al-Bahr (Salt of the Sea) is in the lineup along with and Kelly Reichardt, (Old Joy) with Wendy and Lucy starring Michelle Williams. Joana Hadjithomas co-directed Jeveux Voir with Khali Joreige.

Other women directed films include: Jennifer Lynch's Surveillance; Marina Zenovich's Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired and Alison Thompson's The Third Wave.

April 23, 2008

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman spent the day at the UN yesterday standing up for violence against women declaring that it is the "most widespread human rights violation of our time." Go Nicole!

Full story: Nicole Kidman urges fight to end violence against women (AP)

Photo: AP

Will it be a Good Summer or Bad Summer for Women at the Movies?

One of my favorite issues of my favorite magazines arrived in my mailbox this weekend -- the Summer Movie Preview from Entertainment Weekly. Summer is the time where Hollywood makes most of its money, where we see all the tent-pole (boy) action-adventure (boy) films. I love going to the movies in the summer and I am usually less stringent about what I see, cause hey, it's summer. Here are some movies to put on your list to look forward to.

Sex and the City- loved the show, can't wait for the movie. I know that some people have feminist issues with the show, I don't - May 30

Brick Lane- A young Bangladeshi woman in London. Based on the best-selling novel- June 20

Wanted- can't really tell enough about this except that it looks like Angelina Jolie is back to her ass-kicking Tomb Raider days.- June 27

Kit Kitteridge: An American Girl- for the girl in your life. Those gigantic dolls come to life in the shape of Abigail Breslin- July 2

Mamma Mia!- Meryl sings along with Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and the daughter with the big eyes from Big Love Amanda Seyfried gets her big break playing Streep's daughter. Can't wait. July 18

Streep was asked this question by EW: This is a female-centered movie, written, directed and produced by women. How did that feel?

Meryl Streep: Very different. And the story celebrates all the good female stuff. So much of what we see now about girls feels retrograde. It's all backniting. But this is right smack back to the sisterhood of the '70s. That made me happy.
Hounddog- Deborah Kampmier's coming of age story starring Dakota Fanning. July 18

American Teen- Nanette Burstein's Sundance winning documentary which looks at teens in Indiana- July 25

Frozen River- Courtney Hunt's Sundance winning dramtic effort tells the story of two women who smuggle illegal immigrants. - August 1

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2- for the tweeners. The film reunites the four actresses who are now in college and navigating young adulthood.- August 8

Towelhead- tells the coming of age story of a 13-year-old girl who is sexually abused by a neighbor. Based on a true story. - August 15

What Else I'll Be Seeing
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull- can't wait, especially to see the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood and Cate Blanchett as a page boy haired KGB agent.
Iron Man- the thinking man's action film
The X-Files- I Want to Believe
Batman, The Dark Knight

April 22, 2008

Calling All Women Film Bloggers

When I first started covering the women's film beat I would introduce myself to the other mostly male critics and bloggers at screenings telling them what I did, and I was usually greeted with a strange look of sympathy and confusion. Some said, you cover films that star and/or are directed by women? How interesting (with a note of condescension thrown in).

Those types of greetings made me even more determined. One issue that seems to get glazed over is the lack of female film critics and bloggers. Blogging is not a male world as the statistics show, but film blogging seems to be, and we need to get more women's voices to be a part of the mix.

This all began when I jumped in on a conversation on the film blogosphere last week regarding this posting Two Female Leads about how few films feature two female leads. My comments became a post on Awards Daily Women in Hollywood on the Case and Sasha Stone the site editor took it a bit further with these comments:

One interesting development in media lately is that, if you buy the idea that the web has anything to do with the success of film, film sites are dominated by male personalities. Most film critics are male (almost all, frankly); the popular Hollywood buzz sites (so-called) are dominated by males. The female voices out there are few and far between and tend to be judged more on how they look, sorry but it’s true, than what they write - no one cares what the male bloggers look like. Hot and sexy women on the web draw readers in this particular fanboy generation of film coverage on the web. So, women need to shove themselves into the middle of the room and be loud about it
I find very few women infiltrating the fanboy universe — a few here and there. Even Kate Coe, one of the more interesting female voices on the web, was recently fired from Fishbowl LA because she dared to ask for more money to do extra work that wasn’t part of her job. So there’s Anne Thompson, Susan Wloszczyna, Kim Voynar, Kim Morgan - who else? The sexist terrain of the web makes it very difficult for women to rise the same way men do, unless they’re someone like the Wonkette - using a combo of wit, sex appeal, good looks, etc. Yes, it’s a double standard but it won’t change until people start making noise about it and women start getting involved.
Thanks Sasha for the link and for the thoughtful comments. Maybe what we need is a clearinghouse for all the female bloggers and critics? (Update: I added a small blogroll to my site- send me more names.)

April 21, 2008

Why Women Need to Support Women Artists: Crooked at the Women's Project

I'm embarrassed to admit that before last week I had never been to a show at the Women's Project, a 30-year-old feminist theatre company based in NY dedicated to presenting theatre by and/or about women. But I remedied my significant oversight and I hope all New Yorkers --both men and women -- who are interested in challenging theatre will also take the time out to visit the Women's Project which is presenting Crooked by Catherine Trieschmann and directed by Liz Diamond.

I don't want to give anyone the impression that these 90 minutes are easy and light. They are not. They are tough and challenging and full of many different issues, maybe too many (feminism, faith, stigmata, outcast teenage girls, the difficult relationship between mothers and daughters, mental illness) but after processing the play you kind of amazed at how Trieschmann was able to construct the whole thing.

The play is about Laney (Cristin Milioti)a 14-year-old young woman who has the imagination of a person who doesn't fit in anywhere, and whose body is revolting against her causing a painful hunchback called dystonia. She meets the innocent and maybe mentally challenged Maribel (Carmen M. Herlihy, in a fantastic performance) when she moves down to her mother's hometown in Alabama. Maribel is a believer. She believes that Jesus is channeled through her, and Laney is so desperate to believe anything (since her feminist mother doesn't believe in anything and hoping that maybe Jesus could help her and her institutionalized father) that she gets sucked into Maribel's world.

Showing awkward and messy young women is not something very common in the theatre. They yell and hurt each other and nothing is neat. Laney and her mom Elise (Betsy Aidem), also fight ferociously. Neither of their lives are turning out as expected, and Elise never imagined being back in her father's house in the southern community she escaped as a young woman, and she is bitter and disappointed. But mother and daughter do have each other and that's one of the things that comes through in the end.

Julie Crosby took over as the artistic director of the Women's Project two years ago. She is an experienced theatrical professional and clearly represents a new generation in feminist theatrical leadership (wonder how many others could qualify and feminist theatrical leaders?) Her ultimate goal is to put the need to have a theatre like the Women's Project out of business, but she knows she has a long way to go. "Things have gotten better but we're still at 20% of plays produced professionally across the nation and I find that 30 years later that figure is appalling."

So just like with films, women need to step up and support female theatrical artists. We're already going to the theatre. Women make up 63% of the Broadway audience and 66% of the Broadway ticket buyers (don't have the off-Broadway numbers), yet I would venture to say that many have not been to the Women's Project. Crosby believes that there is an economic disparity holding back producers from signing up plays by women and/or directed by women. "There is a sense that the large venues - Broadway and off-Braodway- that the work of women is not economically viable." Sound familiar?

Crosby sums the whole problem up perfectly: "We don't go to see a play written by Tony Kushner and say that it's a play for men, but we tend to do that with women. It's like with the chick flick. They're not women's issues -- they're everyone's issues."

Purchase tickets here: Crooked Tickets